194: 9 Things to Consider Before Adding More Animals
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Part of the excitement of moving to a five acre farm with a big red barn and a little red barn and a blue shed and two quonset huts is the space you have. Potentially, that space could be filled with animals, right?
We currently overwinter laying chickens and Muscovy ducks. Every spring we get meat birds, turkeys, and feeder pigs to raise up and put in our freezer. In the past we’ve had horses, goats, and pheasants. I constantly joke with my husband about adding a baby emu and a baby donkey to the farm, but sometimes I’m more serious and bring up the topic of rabbits and quail.
There is something about being a homesteader that has you constantly thinking of what animal you should add to fill up the space you have—or think you have.
I recently talked with Nate and Erin from Two Chicks Homestead about Raising Meat Rabbits and the joke during their interview was were they going to convince Amy that she should add meat rabbits to her farm. Now, what I have decided is that meat rabbits are totally the next thing I would add to my farm. But I’m not going to add them to my farm this year.
I’m going to walk you through my thought process on current times and adding more animals to the farm.
Things worth considering:
Here are a few things worth taking a look at when you’re thinking of adding more animals to your homestead:
1. Cost/availability of animals:
In 2018 when I wrote Cornish Cross Vs. Red Rangers: The Meat Bird Experiment, Cornish Cross chicks cost $1.20. When I looked up prices for ordering this year, they are more than double to almost triple the cost.
2. Cost/availability of feed:
I remember several times last year going to the feed store and not being able to buy what I wanted because they didn’t have the amount I wanted. There were also times I had to switch what I was feeding because they didn’t have the feed I wanted. And I’m not talking about brand of feed, I’m talking about temporarily switching to layer feed for meat bird feed or pig feed for layer feed—because of what they had available.
3. Cost/availability of other supplies:
What other things are required to have those animals at your farm? Can you find feeders, waterers, hutches, coops, fencing, the lumber to build things?
4. Pay attention to what currently works:
In times of stress and uncertainty in the world/future, do you want to bring more unknowns to your homestead, or do you want to just deal with what you’ve got that you know works? Your answer to that is a completely personal decision, but it’s one to be honest with yourself about. How do you deal with bringing new things to your farm if they don’t work out?
5. The benefit of a closed system
There are a lot of benefits to having a closed system, and I love the idea of not having to depend on anyone else to provide the animals you’re producing and harvesting at your farm. Our ducks and laying hens are a closed system. Our pheasants were a closed system, and our goats were an almost closed system—we had to borrow the buck from a friend.
Our pigs and our meat birds are not a closed system, neither were our turkeys. We get our feeder pigs from a local farmer, our meat birds and turkeys we order from a hatchery catalog.
Why do I not have a completely closed system for everything we’re raising here? I’ve thought on it and realized that a big part of what keeps me from doing that is winter in Minnesota. The more animals I overwinter, the more chores I have to do when it’s -40 and there is three feet of snow in front of the barn door. My kids are creeping up on their 20s which means I’m definitely not in my 20s anymore, and I have to be honest about adding stuff to this farm and the work—especially winter work—that will fall on me.
The other thing is that I think about how great it would be to be a closed system (and I’m not saying we won’t work towards that) but not having to go to the feed store to get my birds doesn’t eliminate the fact that I still have to go to the feed store to get the feed I’m feeding all these animals I keep. I do NOT have a closed system with that.
I’m considering that the focus this year should be figuring out how we can produce more food for the animals we raise, and get that under control, before worrying about adding more animals to the farm.
Having said all that, I did recently bring up to my husband about closing our meat production system here a bit more, especially when I noticed the cost of Cornish Cross chicks and feed. And he thought for a minute and said:
“Maybe instead of ordering 50 Cornish Cross, we only do 25 and then make the meat up with the Muscovies we are raising.”
He’s not out of line suggesting that. We’ve always ordered 50 Cornish Cross and put (around) 50 Cornish Cross in the freezer—every year. Last year (2021), with the disasters we had regarding rats and an illness that went through our chickens, we only put 13 in the freezer (of the original 50 birds we’d ordered.)
And you know what? My freezer still has plenty of chicken in it. Some still from 2020. Which brings me to my next point.
6. Be honest about how much meat you actually need.
Having extra is important, and folks living with a preparedness mindset completely understand that. But having more than you will ever eat that just sits in your freezer? That’s a completely different thing.
How do you figure out how much meat you use? The easiest way (for me) also happens to be the longest way. At our farm, we do one batch of Cornish Cross a year. I always ordered 50 Cornish Cross because I figured that was just about a chicken a week on our menu.
Do a best guesstimate about how much you’re going to use (of whatever animal). Buy that many to raise up, and then butcher them. Before you start the process over again, look to see how much you still have in your freezer.
For instance, if in year one we put 50 chickens in the freezer and one year later we only have four birds left in the freezer, we’re probably doing pretty good with the amount we raise. But if we suddenly find we’ve still got 33 birds left in the freezer, we probably don’t need to do 50 chickens every year, and it’s time to run those numbers again.
Your meat needs might change, and you need to make sure you assess that from time to time. If you have two toddlers, that’s completely different than having two 14 year old boys. Similarly, my boys are 18 and 19 and aren’t around for meals nearly as much as they used to be. At some point, they will move out and get places of their own. When it is just my husband and I, that’s a totally different farm set up than what we had even five years ago—let alone ten years ago when there were two families living here for a short time. Am I still using the “how much meat do we need” numbers from ten years ago? (Enter sheepish grin from Amy.)
Another thing to consider in how much meat you use is how you use the meat you raise. If you’re taking that chicken or rabbit or duck and preparing it as chicken, rabbit, or duck with nothing else because you’re keto/carnivore) that’s completely different than saying, I’m going to take this rabbit meat and make rabbit pot pie and tomorrow night I’ll make a rabbit gravy to serve over mashed potatoes so I get two meals out of this rabbit.
7. How much butchering do you want to do?
Many years ago, a vegetarian friend of mine had made the switch to raising her own food. In that process, and seeing how different the food system can be when it’s happening on your own property, she actually made steps to add meat back in to her diet. She started with quail but after a year, switched to chickens. When I asked her why the switch, she explained it was all about how many lives she had to take to sustain hers, and that she could get way more meat from one chicken than however many quail she had to kill to give her the same amount of meat.
Now, the amount of lives you have to take might not be your particular hang up, but there is something to be said for how much time you’re going to spend butchering and processing vs. the meat you’re going to get out of it.
We butcher all our own meat animals here, and when we really get flying we can take a chicken from dispatched to eviscerated to an ice bath in no time at all. Now I’ve never processed a quail before, but birds are all put together the same way, and I have seen a few videos of the how-to. But let’s so some simple math.
Let’s say we want 25 pounds of meat in the freezer. The dressed weight of my Cornish Cross averages 5 pounds a piece, which means I need 5 chickens to net me 25 pounds of meat.
The dressed weight of a quail is 4-5 oz. You need 3-4 quail to make a pound of meat. Which means you need to butcher 75-100 quail to have 25 pounds of meat in the freezer.
Now, some of you can’t raise Cornish Cross where you live. Some of you don’t like the idea of Cornish Cross. For some of you, quail absolutely works better for your set up—they are very space efficient! Do whatever works best for you.
But what I’m getting at here is don’t assume that if you have Cornish Cross and you’re happy with that set up that you have to add quail and rabbit and pheasant (and, and, and) too. You can if you want, but run some numbers to see if it makes sense, or be honest about your purpose in still deciding to do it anyway.
8. Do you actually eat what you’re raising?
Seems like a silly question, right? Why would you raise something for meat if you don’t actually eat it?
It’s kind of like asking why we plant things in our garden that we don’t eat. Or asking, Amy, why do you continue to plant a 20 foot row of radishes when you’re good with just a few tiny sides of Fried Radishes every year?
We have raised turkeys the last few years. I love turkeys. I love their personalities, I think they’re a really freaking cool animal. However. What I have learned about raising turkeys is that although we like raising them, they’re usually the last thing we pull out of the freezer. We’re not big on eating them.
So why am I raising them?
9. But I can use my extra to sell or barter with!
You can certainly raise extra to sell. But if you’re going to raise things to sell, understand what you’re getting into. And also understand that people saying they’re going to buy your chickens turkey pork is different from people actually buying your chickens turkey pork.
You can also raise extra to have on hand for barter. But make sure that the time and money and space that you’re putting into that extra is worth what you’re going to receive in trade, especially if the cost of the animal and the feed is going up.
Before raising all the animals…
It is fun to raise all the things. It’s fun to consider what you could add to your homestead.
In a time when we should be stocking up and raising and growing all the things, I just want to give you permission to not raise all the things. I think it’s important to dig into your family, your set up, and the way things work at your homestead, and realize that you don’t necessarily have to raise eleventy bazillion things. Or that if you do, you will be paying for eleventy bazillion things.
Being self sufficient and taking care of you means knowing what you need, what you like, and what will keep your family going in a way that makes sense for your homestead.
— Amy Dingmann, 3-15-22
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1 thought on “194: 9 Things to Consider Before Adding More Animals”
I have accepted (somewhat anyway) my physical limitations since our 1200 mile move 3 years ago. All I have for now are chickens. I have raised turkeys and meat chickens (first year here) and will be getting rabbits. BUT. That is a far, far cry from the turkeys, chickens (egg and meat), ducks, geese, peacocks, moos, zebu, rabbits, hogs, goats (milk and meat) Great Pyrs, and horse that I had at the old farm. Those days are done, and it is a sad thing. From feeding 3 families, to feeding 2 people, is a huge change. At first, I made a list of new buildings and critters we would obtain here. Got to thinking (it’s known to happen) that all of that is something that is much harder for me now and why do it? I did plant fruit trees and berries like my old farm had, but they are much easier to deal with. Thanks Amy for confirming that it my new choice is a good thing for me.